Singapore’s Hipster Hangout - A Muslim Traveller’s Guide To Exploring Tiong Bahru


Iyesha Maria •  Feb 19, 2019

Tucked away just a few train stops away from Singapore’s iconic Orchard road is a quaint and contemporary area - Tiong Bahru. The word “Tiong” originates from Hokkien meaning “death”, while “Bahru” means “new” in Malay”.

Credit: Giphy

Unlike the modern Orchard road or Marina Bay area, the charm of Tiong Bahru lies in its mixture of colonial and contemporary Singapore, a convergence of the new and old ?

#HHWT tip: Singapore’s tropical climate can get hot during the day ? (usually around 28 – 32 degrees Celsius). We recommend that you bring out your nicest sunglasses and a bottle of water with you while walking around Tiong Bahru. And an umbrella if you’re not too keen on walking under the sun. Don’t worry there are plenty of shaded areas if you need a break.

We have compiled some activities for you to experience Tiong Bahru’s olden heritage and its modern revival. Here’s what you shouldn’t miss out!

The Old

Tiong Bahru itself has many sights and things to do for history and architecture buffs! Here are our top recommendations for some nostalgic points to see and explore.

1. HDB Flats

Tiong Bahru’s historical HDB flats are a haven for those wanting to see some old-school architecture! These low-rise buildings were built during the pre-war era in the 1920s and are one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore.

The HDB flats are about a ten-minute walk away from the train station. Stroll around the neighbourhood and get a feel of its colonial style architecture.

Keep a lookout for quirky details in the neighbourhood. Many old-fashioned and traditional items can be found in the vicinity. Some are used as decoration, and some are still used for their original function.

Find plenty of photo-friendly spots in the area too! The old colonial style doors and windows make excellent backgrounds for photographs. Time to up your Instagram game ?

Don’t just walk along the main roads, walk in between the apartment blocks. As it is still a residential area, you might see kids playing in the courtyards, residents doing chores, or just simply people going on with their daily lives in Tiong Bahru.

Since the older buildings are low-rise, it is amazing to see modern high-rise buildings behind them. A view that truly conveys a mixture of modern and old Singapore!

#HHWT tip: Enjoy the walk through the neighbourhood and do stop to grab a few (or more) insta-worthy shots but be aware that some items and locations are private properties.

2. Tiong Bahru Market

The Tiong Bahru market has been operating since 1945! Today, the newly-renovated two-level market has both a wet market on the ground floor and a hawker food court on the top floor.

Although the building is newly refurbished, each individual stall still has its own unique look and personality.

Walk around the wet market and you’ll notice plenty of flowers, meat, and vegetable vendors. Many of the vendors have been working at the market for decades! The uncles and aunties working at the stalls are friendly and are do not mind being photographed. Some might even strike up a conversation with you! Just be mindful not to get in their way during busy hours, or when they are accommodating customers.

And foodies, don’t be afraid to try Singapore’s legendary hawker food ?! The dining area is airy with many ceiling fans so it is a comfortable place to grab breakfast or lunch. It might be crowded depending on the time or day, but one of the charms of this food court is the blend of people who eat there – find a mix of old-fashioned locals, office workers, and tourist. All enjoying Singapore’s iconic hawker food!

Majority of the stalls there are not halal. But there is a Muslim-owned stall, Ali Corner, that sells a variety of Malay dishes such as nasi lemak, mee soto, and ayam penyet. Prices start from SGD3.50.

If you’re craving for Singaporean Chinese food instead, here are 13 Halal Authentic Chinese Food and 5 Halal Bak Kut The Places when you explore other parts of the city!

#HWWT tip: Some of the food served may be spicy. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, let the ladies know so they won’t add chilli, or give you another recommendation to try instead.

The hawker centre itself separates halal and non-halal plates and utensils. Remember to place them in the correct tray sections when you’re done!

There are also priority seating for expecting mothers, elderly, and disabled. Just keep a lookout for these stickers on the chairs and tables for the priority tables.

3. Yong Huat Upholstery

You cannot visit a historical site without visiting the oldest shop in the area! Yong Huat Upholstery has been operating there for over 49 years.

Walking by the shop, you might see an old uncle working on upholstering things. Many still send their furniture or other materials for upholstery here because of the authenticity of their craftsmanship.

4. Qi Tian Gong Temple

Also been established since the 1920s is a quaint temple amid the busy Tiong Bahru area. Qi Tian Gong is a temple dedicated to the Monkey God, Sun Wukong, who is featured in the famous novel “Journey to the West”.

Qi Tian Gong’s uniqueness is its variety of monkey god statues. Look around the temple and see the monkey god in different poses and in a variety of sizes. There is also one section of the temple with a wall of tiny monkey god statues.

#HHWT tip: As you look around the temple, do be mindful not to get in the way of people who are visiting the temple to pray.

The New

The charm of this place is how the modern part of Singapore blends with the old in Tiong Bahru. Take a stroll around and you will see modern boutiques, stunning cafes, and contemporary art galleries! Here are a few of our suggestions for this part of Tiong Bahru.

1. Murals

Instagrammers rejoice! Find stunning murals along the streets that are worthy of your social media feed. The three most popular murals are by Yip Yew Chong - Home, Tiong Bahru Pasar, and Bird Singing Corner.

Each mural has its very own story based on the artist’s childhood growing up in Tiong Bahru. You can read their stories and inspirations on a paragraph painted right next to the murals!

Credit: @smaranda.mp on Instagram

The murals have been painted with such detail that they seem almost realistic. Although this is a new addition to Tiong Bahru, the scenes painted delivers a sense of nostalgia.

2. One Olive Floral Boutique

A cosy little flower shop for flower lovers! Unless you’re making a bouquet for a loved one (or yourself), you wouldn’t be spending much time here, but it is an adorable little sweet-smelling shop to visit ?

3. Bookstores

For book lovers ?, there are two indie bookstores just a few shops away from each other - Books Actually, and Woods in the Books.

This is THE place for you book lovers! Books Actually has a large collection of indie books by international and local Singaporean authors. Their collection is not usually found elsewhere. Browse through books on Singapore’s history, heritage and modernisation. Also, remember to check out the back of the store where you can find a variety of trinkets.

Books Actually also has a book vending machine outside the store that dispenses “mystery books”. For SGD19, you will get a surprise book!

Woods in the Books sells indie children’s books that are not commonly found in other bookstores. Drop in and have a look around. Similar to Books Actually, their books are not commonly found elsewhere. You might find an interesting souvenir or two for your younger friends or family!

4. Tiong Bahru Playground

Fantastic not just for kids, but also for the rest of us! The playground is in Tiong Bahru Park, a medium-sized neighbourhood park.

The playground is located slightly further than the rest of the suggested activities (about 10 to 15-minute walk). We suggest you visit the playground first or last for convenience. Have a go walking through the tilted train and snap whimsical photos!

Credit: @gwykaptures on Instagram

#HHWT tip: Be careful when walking through the train since its angled platforms can be a little slippery.

5. Shopping!

Shoppers, remember to allocate some time to check out the boutiques! There are many indie boutiques by local designers on the streets of Tiong Bahru. Some of us might end up spending the entire day just browsing through the indie boutiques! Here are two suggested boutiques that might interest you.

 Credit: @chiewytan on Instagram

Find local and international clothing at Nana & Bird! The cosy boutique has a retro feel and sells clothes, bags, and accessories!

Credit: @Diegosart on Instagram

For art enthusiasts, drop by Degiosart and check out their art collection. Find a mixture of vintage art, antiques, and contemporary fine objects sourced from parts of Europe and Asia.

And if that is not enough to satisfy the shopaholic in you, here are 11 best places in Singapore to shop at!

One great thing about Tiong Bahru is most of the sights are about three to five minutes’ walk from one another! You should be able to cover Tiong Bahru in a day, but you can come back for more of course. There is always something new to discover!

Getting there:

If you are using public transportation, you can get there by train or bus. If you’re taking the train, hop onto the closest MRT and stop at Tiong Bahru Station, located inside Tiong Bahru Plaza.

For buses, there are several stations you can stop along Tiong Bahru Road. Find buses that will take you to Tiong Bahru Road. Depending on where you start your day, you stop at different locations.

For those who wish to visit the playground, stop at Tiong Bahru Park or Opposite Tiong Bahru Park. If you want to stop at Tiong Bahru Plaza (where the train station is) take the bus to Tiong Bahru Station or Opposite Tiong Bahru Station. And you if want to head to where the cafes and boutiques are, stop at Blk 55.

Head over to Singapore’s Transit Link guide for more information bus routes.

Prayer locations:

For those looking for a prayer location, Masjid Jamiyyah Ar-Rabitah is located near the playground listed above. If you’re taking the bus there, stop at Bef Ar-Rabitah Mosque.

An extra note for photographers ?

Most places such as Tiong Bahru Market and Qi Tian Gong Temple are more than happy to let you snap away but do keep in mind that some shops aren’t too comfortable with you taking photographs (especially shops selling non-food products). It is best to ask first as a courtesy. But don’t worry, even if they don't allow photography, they are friendly about it!

Whether you’re a local, a first-time tourist, or just looking for something different in Singapore, Tiong Bahru is definitely the place to be ?